Messaging has become so common among smartphone and Internet users that people often take it for granted that their conversations may not always be just between them. Unlike face-to-face or even telephone conversations, the chances of third parties, especially unauthorized actors, snooping in on private dialogue are so much higher in Internet-based messaging services. To fight such privacy intrusions, Google is finally flipping the switch for E2EE, short for end-to-end encryption, on its Messages platform. Provided you meet certain requirements, that is.
Messages E2EE has been in beta testing since November, and today’s announcement brings it to almost everyone. The benefits of encrypted messages are pretty much known by now, and, in a nutshell, it means that no one, not even Google, will be able to snoop into your conversations. Unfortunately, Messages’ E2EE implementation requires a certain set of elements to be present in order to work.
The base requirement is that E2EE will only work if both participants are using RCS, which means they need an active Internet connection. Given the nature of SMS and MMS, E2EE can’t be applied to the nearly archaic protocols. The feature also only applies to one-on-one conversations and not for group chats.
That Internet connection is critical and E2EE messages won’t send if either party loses their connection. Messages will hold the message until a connection is reestablished, but users can opt to just send the message as plain, unsecured SMS or MMS. Users can also manually verify that their messages are indeed encrypted in the conversation’s details.
E2EE is also available for Messages on the Web, no RCS required. In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Google isn’t allowing users to disable this feature for RCS chats, making it one of the company’s harder privacy stances.